For those of you that may not know, Matt Nathanson released his new album, Last of the Great Pretenders, on Tuesday. He took to his website yesterday to thank fans for their kind words… and it just got me thinking about how long Matt has been a part of my life through his music.
Going on 10 years ago now, Courtney, a gal I met through a message board Kelly and I ran for another musician, introduced me and Kelly to Matt Nathanson via quotes from live shows used as AIM away messages. He sounded funny, so I made a mental note to check him out after I checked out the John Mayer kid she was also always talking about. Kelly was quicker and got pretty into him by way of two songs… I can’t remember now what one of them was but the other was ‘Clean’.
That next summer she and Katie (also quicker to the party than I was!) took me to see him at Summerfest. He played the Piggly Wiggly stage (which no longer exists). Kelly was on crutches after fracturing her foot falling after a night of far-too-heavy drinking (the bar was called Sparky’s and Sparky was a 70’s something dirty old man who poured warm shots of Kessler’s whiskey [retch] for anyone with big boobs [read: me]). The show was incredible – a mind-blowing event that made me, a seasoned concert elitist at the ripe old age of 23, question every concert I’d ever called my “favorite”. Sure, No Doubt was awesome but I never felt a part of that show. I didn’t laugh out loud and enjoy the songs I’d never heard as much as the ones I knew well. But I did at that Matt Nathanson show. And afterwards, when he was completely surrounded by fans, he took the time to talk to each and every one of us. I didn’t feel rushed. He called Kelly “Crutchy”. He made me feel like I wasn’t just a face in a crowd; he made me feel like I was special, like I MEANT something. Even if I was just something to his experience and not him directly, I still felt important. Like maybe he got something out of me/us the same way we got something out of him.
That night we went back to Kelly and Katie’s apartment and listened to the album we’d each bought, Beneath These Fireworks. We listened to it on repeat all night while we played Scrabble and drank raspberry vodka and lemonade out of a Fiestaware pitcher. Every time we got to ‘Bare’ or ‘Bent’, I would say, “What track is this?”, and Kelly would patiently tell me. Over and over and over.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Beneath These Fireworks helped shape the music tastes that I have today. Before Matt Nathanson and BTF entered my life, it was all pop punk, all the time. I was the tubby girl in pigtails with a band t-shirt, a different color nail polish on each finger, and a teddy bear backpack who signed her emails with rock hands (“\m/ on, Kat”). That record made me finally give that John Mayer kid a chance. It made me give another listen to Howie Day. It even made me listen to Bruce Springsteen differently. I started noticing lyrics and melodies (I never noticed harmonies prior to BTF so re-listening to Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ album blew. my. mind.) and not just how danceable a beat was.
Since that first Summerfest show in 2004, Kelly and I have seen Matt together… I don’t know how many times. 15? 20? More? I went once without her – she was TERRIBLY ill but Matt was opening for P!nk so I couldn’t very well miss that, could I?? I’m pretty sure I called her at some point during the show (‘Little Victories’? ‘Sing Me Sweet’?), and Katie and I had an absolute BLAST… but there was still a part of me that felt weird being there without her.
We talked with him for ages at a show at New City YMCA in Chicago (he complimented my ‘I ❤ Johnny Knoxville’ shirt).
I got drunk at a Halloween show in Madison and accused him of stealing his striped scarf from me (he didn’t).
We sold merch for him once – at The Rave, when he opened for Lifehouse. It was approximately 438* in the merch booth (the GORGEOUS guy selling for Lifehouse used my lemongrass body spray to cover his BO – THAT’S how hot it was in there). When Matt played ‘Detroit Waves’ I screamed and sang along, down at the end of a hallway with only Kelly and Gorgeous McLifehouseMerch to hear me.
We drove 20 hours straight to see him open for David Cook in Virginia Beach. The best part of that show? I FINALLY met Rhonda and Eireann, 2 AMAZING ladies I met on a Howie Day LiveJournal community. We’d been talking for 5+ years but had never met in person, and we did that night after the concert.
We saw him open for Counting Crows (Kelly barely survived her fangirl attack) while my foot was broken (non-drinking related). I was offered VIP seats but they were too far from the stage so I declined and stood in my stupid surgical boot up against the barricades. The list goes on.
A few years ago, after being best friends for 20+ years, Kelly and I FINALLY got those matching tattoos we’d always talked about – a lyric from a Matt Nathanson song: “all we are, we are…”. If you ask both of us what the lyrics means, our answers are completely different, but that’s one of the great things about music – it speaks to us all differently, individually.
There have been a few new albums since that Beneath These Fireworks record – Some Mad Hope, Modern Love, and now Last of the Great Pretenders… and each time I think sadly, “Matt is great but this album can’t possibly beat the last one.”… and he always does. Why do I doubt this man’s ability anymore? Why do I assume change will be a bad thing (good question for my entire life, actually)?
With each album his fan base has grown more and more, and I am so, so happy for him. Okay, full disclosure: some days I want to scream at people for loving him in a way that I deem incorrect, or tell someone to move on, this bandwagon is FULL, tyvm. But 99.5% of the time I am so incredibly happy and hopeful that people still notice good, passionate, genuine music when they hear it.
Phew, this post has gotten away from me. I didn’t intend to ramble on this much. I guess what I am trying to say is that I would love to give Matt Nathanson a thank you like he just gave all of us. Thank you for getting me through simple things like shitty days at work (screaming ‘Detroit Waves’ or ‘Lucky Boy’ or ‘Amazing Again’ out your car window is incredibly therapeutic)… and not-so-simple things like self doubt (the bridge of ‘Pretty the World’ is EVERYTHING I need on those days). Thank you for helping me keep my faith in music when most songs on the radio make me want to weep or scream or rip my face off. Thank you for giving me and my best friend of 2/3 of my life something to fangirl over TO THIS DAY.
Thank YOU, Matt. Thank you for being you and for being brave and for pouring yourself into these records in a way that feels so fucking true, I am still moved by albums I’ve listened to HUNDREDS of times. I will see you at Festa Italiana on Saturday and maybe, just maybe, you’ll look down at me and Kelly and think, “Yep, seen them before.” But if you don’t, that’s okay, too.